New Year Pitfalls: Where Kick-Start Plans Go Wrong

Inline_Pitfalls_of_Kick-Start_ProgramsYesterday I laid out the benefits of doing a kick-start program—what a good community challenge, elimination program or other total reset could offer you in reclaiming (or enhancing) health. For the most part, I believe in the power of these plans. Obviously, I organize one every year here. I’ve seen countless folks turn their well-being around—lose weight, build strength and stamina, relish new energy, reverse or dial back medical conditions, kick medications they thought they’d be on for the rest of their lives. A kick-start gave them enough structure, support and momentum to move beyond the drag force, and they’re flourishing today as a result.

And, yet, I’d be remiss to to say I haven’t seen them fail for some people. As a professional and a friend, I’ve witnessed (or at least heard the story after the fact) people getting fully sidetracked and even losing their footing on one of these plans. It happens, and there’s usually a clear reason why.

You’ve chosen an ungrounded or unrealistic plan.

Not all dietary plans, challenges and programs are created equal. In fact, a sad portion (dare I say majority) have little regard for how human metabolism actually works.

We’re all well-acquainted with the various fat-averse variants, but there are legions of bad plans that purport irrational claims and/or dangerous methods, such as those promising the moon to people if they only subsist on a handful of calories and virtually zero nutrients for a month or more.

The same can apply to any number of other elimination or combination diets, which pull their rationale out of thin air rather than scientific fact. Others propose extreme “fitness” regimens that overwork the body and exhaust the adrenals, making life hell and the hormonal picture infinitely worse.

Unfortunately, too few people look beyond the wild claims and “before/after” shots to the actual fundamentals of the diet. Does it have unbiased, peer reviewed science to back it up? Does it make sense, from a metabolic, nutritional and even anatomical perspective? Does it require hours of time in the gym (or, on the flip side, no movement at all)? Does it sound fun, sustainable? Happiness matters. So does balance.

The program’s intensity doesn’t fit your personal disposition or current readiness.

Some people absolutely thrive on intensity. The bigger the challenge, the better. Boot camps, elite programs are their style. It’s what gets them motivated and keeps them invested.

But this isn’t everyone. The free spirits, the slow burners tend to live a different way, and that can work, too. (More on that next week…) Likewise, some people might fall somewhere in the middle, but their readiness just doesn’t match up with the all-in expectations of a very intense program.

For most people, kickstart plans and challenges need to allow some room to move. The Primal Blueprint as a whole—and the 21-Day Challenge itself—offers this, I believe. It’s certainly why I choose to live it each day, and it’s what I hear from Primal types again and again. There’s room to breathe, live, indulge, experiment and simply be—whatever and wherever you’re at.

You’re paranoid about perfection.

I’ve seen this many times before. If a person’s dead set on achieving a state of dietary perfection hitherto unknown, it’s almost inevitably a setup for failure. Setting realistic, achievable goals for bettering health is one thing, but committing to a notion of perfection puts an unnecessary strain on one’s aspirations. Stressing about every minute detail of diet and lifestyle gets exhausting and leads most people to abandon the venture altogether.

Allow for the occasional kick-start misdemeanor. Just don’t make a regular thing of it.

You’re allergic to certain foods.

No matter how polished the kickstart plan, if you continue to eat a certain type of food that frazzles your immune response—no matter how “central” it feels to your chosen plan, progress is going to be difficult to achieve. A food allergy, even sensitivity in some people, has the potential to derail progress. First things first: dial in what you can’t eat—or experiment with an elimination program like Whole30 to figure out what might be short-circuiting your process.

You’re trying to do it alone.

Taking responsibility for your own process doesn’t negate the importance of garnering support for yourself. Maybe your inner circle isn’t interested in going Primal with you or taking on whatever goals you have—and that’s okay. (If they do, good for you. Let the experiment bring you closer together.)

Most kick-start programs offer some form of support. For the 21-Day, folks share on the comment boards and forum. Whatever the plan, chat groups offer a place to ask questions and occasionally whine or joke a little. Physical get-togethers (e.g. Grokfeasts) go a step further and connect you more intimately with others who can guide or support your process. Don’t wait for your enthusiasm to wane before getting yourself some community.

Likewise, sometimes we need more. More support. More guidance. More interaction. It’s all very well to be an extensively-researched Grok enthusiast, but it’s quite another to know the ins and outs of human anatomy and how to maximize its potential. Health coaches and other functional practitioners can do just that, so I’d recommend aligning yourself with a health expert if your kick-start plan just isn’t taking off. They’ll be able to guide you beyond any stumbling blocks, point out any nutritional or lifestyle tripping points, and ensure you achieve your aspirations that much faster.

You’re overcomplicating things (or the plan is).

If life and coaching have taught me one thing, it’s that simplicity is king. Depending on where you’re starting from and where you hope to go, too much change at once is like jumping into a glacier-fed lake: shocking. And that shock can put a lot of people off. Just like going from no exercise to a sledgehammer-wielding, barbell-squatting exercise program is shocking. Not everyone is that fast to warm up.

Ease into the process with the least amount of pain, struggle and convolution. It’s not the only one that offers this of course, but the 21-Day Challenge capitalizes impact from its straightforward, uncomplicated, easy-to-follow recommendations.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Have you or a loved one been caught in any of these pitfalls? What are you doing differently for yourself now? Take care.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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7 thoughts on “New Year Pitfalls: Where Kick-Start Plans Go Wrong”

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  1. Ahhhh the constant pursuit of perfection. I can so relate to this one. I have yet to fully complete a 21-day challenge (although I have been primal for 4 years now) because once I “screw” up I throw in the towel. This year I plan to complete the whole challenge. There are 2 days on my calendar: a concert, and a family reunion where I am going to likely indulge a little but overall if I eat 2 meals a day for 21 days thats 42 meals and 40 of them will be Primal; I would say that is a damn good success.

    It is why I have never done a Whole30 although I respect it. Personally I get to focused, then I slip, then I beat myself up, rinse, rather, repeat.

    This year I will do my best, know I will slip and keep going. If at the end of 365 days I am Primally for roughly 300 days I am doing well. Any by the way that makes me more real to the clients who I do Primal coaching with.

    Thanks Mark!

    1. Anthony, I love the perspective. It’s all in the choice to keep showing up – a great example to clients and readers. Glad you’ll be joining us!

  2. I have seen friends fail at detoxes that were crazy…no one can survive on green juice. I have been primal for years but have never actually completed the 21 day transformation. It’s just a way of life for me. But I do think that this is a plan that is totally sustainable, and that’s the key. Community support is huge too, and the 21 day transformation totally offers that. But it all depends on the person…some do better with baby steps. I’m always encouraging people to pick one healthy habit that they will actually do, and then build on it.

  3. I think the biggest obstacle to making concrete change is using the word “try” when you should be saying “will”.

    When someone says “I’m trying to quit smoking” or “I’m trying to go to the gym more often” I know they are going to fail. The word “try” implies it may or may not happen. It transfers the responsibility for the outcome to outside forces.

    In matters that are 100% in your control, the proper words are will or won’t.

    Using “try” is for trying to make the Olympic Team, trying to get married and start a family by age 30, or trying to get a job at Google. Too many variables to use the word “will” except for motivational purposes.

    I switched to “will” instead of “try” for most things a long time ago. Not only does it hold me accountable but it makes you way less irritating when someone’s complaining about your behavior.

    “Yes, I understand and will be more considerate next time” sounds way better to the aggrieved party than ” I will try to be more considerate next time” – which sounds like you’re blowing them off.

      1. Yeah, I was trying hard not to fall right into “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

        My grandfather instilled that into me as well since I was a tiny kid.

        He was an early strongman type and built one of those classic physiques you see in old photos of guys in leopard skin trunks and holding those barbells with the cannon balls at the end. He also became a professional bowler and almost made the Canadian Olympic team in bike racing.

        He’d say “people ask me how I find the time to work out. I tell them you don’t FIND the time, you MAKE the time”

        I literally heard that a couple times year since i was about five years old until he died in my forties. I’ve used it myself on others who were making lame excuses for not getting their butt in gear.

        My grandfather was a Yoda type decades before there was a Yoda. He had a knack for taking big problems and distilling them to a simple phrase or mantra.

        He would also tell me to shoot for 80/20 in my diet. He said if 80% of your diet was really good you’re doing fine. Don’t worry about the 20% that you enjoys sweets and treats with.

        This was in 1975.

    1. Amen on the “will” or “do” versus the “try”. It’s a huge deal, psychologically. I still catch myself occasionally.